More Than 70 Dead, Scores Wounded In Attack In Nice, France

Jul 14, 2016
Originally published on August 1, 2016 12:07 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And we're joined now by our national security editor Phil Ewing, who's here in the studio with us. Hi, Phil.

PHIL EWING, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Obviously, these are the very early stages of an investigation. Nobody has said that this is terrorism, and yet this does seem to be of a kind with attacks that we have seen in France in the past.

EWING: Yeah. That's right, and some of the indications we're getting about the early facts of this case do point to a wider organization or other participants - the presence of weapons or explosives in this truck, the fact that this has been a factor, as you've been talking about on the program, in France and in Europe for a long time in terms of hurt from terror groups. And the attention that President Obama and his top administration officials have been giving, not only to helping European countries with the counterterrorism enforcement there, but the larger problem in fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, which has been the focus of a lot of attention by his administration.

Even this week, Secretary of State John Kerry visiting Moscow to talk about arrangements with the Russians for fighting ISIS there, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter traveling to Baghdad earlier this week to talk with officials there about how the U.S. can help with efforts, combating it in the north of Iraq.

SHAPIRO: We also have our national security correspondent Dina Temple-Raston on the line. And, Dina, before we dive into the specifics of what we've seen tonight, let me just ask you whether you have heard anything from law enforcement officials you've been talking to this evening.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Yeah, we understand from two U.S. law enforcement sources that this large truck that drove through the crowd went for some good distance before it was stopped. And it's possible that the attack started with gunfire. Some witnesses have said that the driver started by firing into the crowd. But I'm hearing from our sources that it's possible that this was a mistake on the part of witnesses because it was in the midst of a fireworks display just stopping.

You know, the interesting thing about this is that I was at a conference a couple of months ago in which there were both domestic and international officials who are in counterterrorism, and they were warning about this kind of attack on a soft target. The officials I spoke to on the fringes of that meeting were saying they were concerned about a summertime attack in France, and there was chatter to that effect. In other words, people were talking about that. They were overhearing conversations about that.

SHAPIRO: You know...

TEMPLE-RASTON: Go ahead.

SHAPIRO: ...Dina, you've been covering counterterrorism for enough years to sort of see a shift from plots that require tremendous coordination and resources to plots that can be carried out with a very light footprint. And this - if in fact it does prove to be terrorism - seems like the latter. I mean, a truck and a gas pedal are really all one needs.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, and this is something that was something that al-Qaida actually started in terms of a conversation with terrorists two years ago in their Inspire magazine, which was edited by an American named Samir Khan. He suggested in the magazine that the way Americans could attack without ever leaving the country was simply to take a truck and drive it through a mall. So this is very reminiscent of that in that respect.

SHAPIRO: Dina, can you also talk about the question of why France, which now has been targeted - if in fact this does turn out to be terrorism - for the third time in a very short period of time?

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's right. In less than two years, there have been three attacks. The first being the Charlie Hebdo attack, and this was at the end of 2014. Then there were the November 13 attacks in Paris, where more than 130 people were killed and hundreds were injured. And now, we have this.

And - now, we don't know - we have to stress this is early times in the investigation - and we don't know if this is an ISIS-related attack, but it certainly has many of the hallmarks that counterterrorism officials look for when they see this kind of attack. You know, we talked about this just taking a truck and a gas pedal. But from what we understand from our sources, is that there were grenades and arms in the truck as well.

SHAPIRO: In fact, the mayor of Nice has said as much. That's NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. And we will have more on this story as the evening unfolds and as we learn more about this attack in Nice that killed more than 70 people.

EWING: My pleasure, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.